Before You Choose a Printer
How much do you want to spend?
Good inkjet printers can easily be found for
under $100. A more expensive inkjet has better quality color,
can handle more pages at one time, or can take heavier paper. If
you're looking for high-quality photographs, then expect to
start in the $200-$300 range. If you're looking for something
that will also offer scanning, copying, or faxing, then you
should also be looking at about $300. And if you need the speed
and durability of a laser printer, expect to begin at $250 or
What kind of printer should I buy?
If you just need to print out documents such as
letters, copies of Web pages from the Internet or simple
spreadsheets, a low-end inkjet printer is fine. If you need to
do presentations or high quality photographs, you want a photo
printer. If you print over 100 pages on a daily basis and don't
need color, you may want to look at laser printers. And, of
course, if you need a combination of scanner, printer, copier,
and fax, a multifunction printer is best.
How do printers connect to my PC?
Older printers connect through what is called a
parallel cable. All PCs have at least one -- and usually only
one -- parallel port, and there are few, if any, other devices
that need that port. More modern printers tend to use a USB
connection, which is faster. If you are buying a printer for an
older computer without a USB port, make sure that the printer
has a parallel connection.
Where should I buy a printer?
First, check out some of the large comparison
review sites, such as CNET or PC Magazine or PC World, to get an
idea of what's out there. You can buy them online, either
directly from some of the vendors (such as Dell), or at online
vendors such as Amazon.com or Buy.com. You can also go to a
store such as Staples or Best Buy for a hands-on view. If you
can get a salesperson to print out a test page for you, all the
Can a printer be used on a network?
Absolutely -- but you have to get a networkable
printer. Many office-level printers come with an optional NIC
(Network Interface C?) that allows you to put the printer on a
network and accessible to several employees. (NOTE: If you've
got a home network, you don't need a NIC -- you can usually
access a printer if it's connected to a networked PC or Mac.)
Should I get a scanner?
With a scanner, you can copy printed material
into your PC. You can copy old photos and other images to your
computer, clean them up, put them on the Web, or in online photo
albums. You can archive old documents onto CDs for storage. You
can scan and print out films. However, if you just want to scan
the occasional document or make a few copies, you may want to
get a multifunction device, which will take up less desk space
than having both a scanner and a printer.
Should I replace my old printer?
If you are still just printing occasional
documents and family photos, and your current inkjet is doing a
fine job, there's no reason to replace it. If, however, you are
producing a great deal of family photos, and you want top
quality photographs to pass around, a good photo printer will do
a better job than your old inkjet. If you're starting a home
business, a multifunction will probably suit your needs better
Why are printers so cheap these days?
A lot of the money that vendors make from
printers are from selling ink and toner cartridges -- what are
called in the trade "consumables." Because printer users must
continually purchase more cartridges when the old ones run out,
they can pay more than the original cost of the printer within a
year or so.